Should I Stay or Should I Go?
A sermon based on Genesis 11:1-9
Sunday, May 19, 2013 – Pentecost C
In 1981 the English punk rock band, The Clash, wrote their hit single, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" about the indecision of a couple to stay together or not (or perhaps about the lead singer staying with the band or not). "If I go there will be trouble," sing the lyrics, but, "If I stay it will we double. So you gotta let me know: Should I stay or should I go?"
Now, that's a question that people have asked in different circumstances ever since the beginning of time: "Should I stay or should I go?" After Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God answered for them: "You should go now. If you go there will be trouble. But if you stay it will be double." And lest they eat of the Tree of Life and live forever with the devastating effects of sin, he drove them out.
For Noah God answered the question too. "You should stay. Stay in the ark while I scrub the earth clean." But after the ark had safely landed God had another answer. "You should go now." "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth." (Genesis 9:1) And he repeated it only a few verses later: "As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it." (Genesis 9:7)
But Noah's sons would rather stay than go, at least at first. Here's what happened according to Genesis 11:1-9…
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The Lord said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
I. Stay and Serve Myself
God was pretty clear to Noah and his sons as to what their marching orders were: "Go! Fill the earth!" he said, not, "Stay put and get comfortable." So what happened? They stayed put.
They didn't really want to go spread out. After all, that seemed like a lot of work. They'd have to walk many miles over potentially difficult terrain. They'd have to find their own food, water, shelter and clothes. Trade would be much more difficult. They might even have to live in tents and huts and caves for a while.
Wouldn't it just be easier to stay instead of go? After all they all had one common language and one common goal: To be comfortable, to be wealthy, to "make a name for [themselves] and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." It was a comfortable life; a convenient life. And they'd surely lose that comfort and convenience if they were to leave.
"Should I stay or should I go?" didn't seem to dwell on their minds much. They quickly decided, "No. We'll stay put and build a skyscraper to their glory!" ...in direct opposition to God's command. They deserved another flood. They deserved hell. But God wouldn't give them what they deserved. There was too much at stake. The Gospel was at stake. So in his patient love, he would act. He would get his way one way or another.
"But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building…" not because he had to travel to know what was going on, but to show that his judgment wasn't arbitrary, but based on the reality of their behavior. "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them… So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city."
And all their plans came to ruin. Leaving behind a half-finished tower as a monument to their rebellion, they were scattered over the face of the earth as God had intended for them all along.
Now, before you judge those foolish descendants of Noah too harshly, let's consider how we answer the question: "Should I stay or should I go?" After all, God has told us to "be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it," at least, in a certain sense he has. I'm not talking about birth control here, but about the Great Commission. What did he say his disciples of all time—that is we—should do? "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them…" (Matthew 28:19-20) And again: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15)
Pentecost was the start of that work. And we are called to continue it. And God has richly blessed us with the resources to carry it out. But how well do we do? Do we use the blessings God has given to share the Gospel with our own community? With our own neighbors or co-workers? With our own families? Do we even ask the question, "Should I stay or should I go?" or are we already so comfortable that we don't even consider going?
"I'm comfy on the couch why would I go serve my spouse by helping clean up?" "Go help at church? Nah! There are others who can do that. I'll stay put. Besides this is my only day off." "Go talk to my co-worker about Jesus? I wouldn't know what to say! I'm not comfortable with that." And we stay put, using the blessings God's given just to make life more comfortable for ourselves, letting so many slowly drift to hell.
Penn Jillette—you know, the magician of Penn and Teller?—an avowed atheist once said, "If you believe that there's a heaven and a hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think, "Well, it's not really worth telling them this because it's socially awkward," …How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate them to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? …If I believe a truck is coming at you and you don't believe it, there's a certain point where I tackle you! And this is more important than that!"
Let's face it. For choosing to stay put where it's nice and comfortable instead of going out to tell others what we know in direct opposition to God's command, we deserve to have all of our plans come to ruin. We deserve to be abandoned to ourselves. We deserve hell.
But God doesn't give us what we deserve. There's too much at stake. Our eternal souls are at stake. So are others'. So in his patient love, he acted: And while Jesus could have asked, "Should I stay or should I go?" he didn't. He knew the answer right away. He wouldn't stay in heaven where it was comfortable. He would go... to the muck of earth ...to the humility of a womb ...to the mock trials ...to the cross ...to hell … to rescue us.
And he sent his Holy Spirit to go! And he came to us to create faith in our hearts. By the water, by the word, he came to convince us that it's true: Jesus has paid for our sin. We are forgiven! We have heard these wonders of God in our language without the need to speak Hebrew or Greek! The confusion of Babel has been undone by Pentecost! The Gospel isn't just for a chosen few! It's for me! It's for you! We are forgiven for our selfish choices to stay instead of go.
And now the same Spirit gives us grateful hearts that are eager to serve our God in thanks, to be selfless, to go instead of stay, to go and serve him, to go and tell others…
II. Go and Serve My Lord
God would force those descendants of Noah trying to settle in the plain of Shinar and build their skyscraper for their own luxury and comfort to do what he'd told them—to scatter across the earth, to be fruitful and multiply. If they wouldn't go of their own free will, they would go of necessity, seeking others out who spoke the same as them, banding together and spreading out.
But for us, who have witnessed God's grace so clearly and received Gods' grace so abundantly—in the vehicles we drive and the clothes we wear, in the homes we have and the food we eat, but especially in the font that cleans, in the altar that feeds, in the Word that comforts, in our Savior who saves… For us, who have witnessed God's grace so clearly and received Gods' grace so abundantly, we don't need to be forced to do God's will. We're eager to do it!
We don't even need to ask the question, "Should I stay or should I go?" We don't even need to think about it—not when we think about the cross! Then we can't help but gladly go and serve God and neighbor. I will gladly go get up off the couch to serve my family. I will gladly go to worship to encourage my fellow believers and be encouraged by them. I will gladly go to study his Word and grow in my faith. I will gladly go to work serving faithfully in all I do. And I will gladly go to share the message of God's grace and continue the work that began at Pentecost.
For God's grace is still not just for a few, but for all—for you, for me, for them. So we're eager to "Go and make disciples of all nations…" (Matthew 28:19-20) And to : "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15)
Start at home. Go to the living room after dinner to read a devotion together. Go to your computer to forward a sermon or just "Like" it on Facebook. Go invite your co-workers to watch The Bible (the "epic" TV series) with us at Bible Class this summer. Go to your neighbors with an invite to dinner to befriend them because you know that everlasting life is not just possible, but certain in Christ. And you want them to be certain too.
Will it always be comfortable? No. It won't. It may still be socially awkward. There may even be language barriers to cut across thanks to our ancestors at Babel. But there's too much at stake to be timid or scared! And in thanks to Jesus who didn't stay in heaven, but decided to go to earth, to the cross, to hell to rescue us, we're eager to go and do whatever he asks. We're eager to leave our comfort zones to go and share the good news. "Should I stay or should I go?" Go! In peace, in zeal, in the power of the Spirit, and in Jesus' name! Amen!